After a tough road trip up north, the Gators came back to Gainesville with a long weekend ahead of them.
Junior outside hitter Sofia Victoria sliced the air as she hit the ball over the net to cap off a four point scoring run in the third set. Her kill ensured UF would start the weekend on the brightside.
No.16 Florida (4-2) defeated Georgia Southern (5-2) in sweeping fashion (25-15, 25-18, 25-13) to start the Sunshine Invitational at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center Friday.
The Gators showcased a defensive masterclass in the early match to start the weekend, blocking the Eagles 11 times and preventing them from ever holding a lead in the first two sets.
To start the match, Florida went straight to work, attacking offensively in front of the net behind two kills by Victoria. The Gators jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the first, one they’d never relinquish.
After a four point run, which included a pair of kills by senior outside hitter Marina Markova, the Eagles called their first timeout as UF extended the lead 10-3.
By Georgia Southern’s second timeout, Florida had held the Eagles to a .156 hitting percentage and led 23-15. With two straight aces by junior libero Elli McKissock, Florida gave Georgia Southern its first single set loss since the team’s season opener.
The aces moved McKissock up in the program's history books as well, passing Jenni Patterson for the 60th most career aces.
Freshman setter Alexis Stucky placed multiple perfect passes right at the net for her teammates to attack quickly onto the Eagles’ side of the court. It was a sight Georgia Southern was all too familiar with after the offensive attack seen in the first set.
The Eagles began to counter-attack with the help of two consecutive attack errors by Victoria and graduate student outside hitter Rhett Robinson. After a kill by Eagles fifth-year middle blocker Grace Underwood got by the hands of Victoria, Florida head coach Mary Wise called her first timeout of the day. Florida held a tight lead in the second set, 17-15.
UF immediately responded with five straight points, two of which were kills by Stucky. A service error by Eagles fifth-year outside hitter Emily Jarome sealed the second set for the Gators, 25-18.
Georgia Southern, in threat of being swept, approached the third set with full power — striking every spike with each player's strong arm wheeled back to catapult it straight towards the Gators.
Florida attack errors kept the early stages of the set competitive, despite the Gators leading 5-2 early after a five point streak. UF then went on an eight-point run on the back of two kills by junior middle blocker Nnedi Okammor as she controlled traffic in front.
Trailing 21-11, the bleeding finally stopped for Georgia Southern after a kill by fifth-year right side hitter Baylor Bumford. However, nothing would stop the Gators as Victoria hit the ball over the net to no recipients. The ball smacked the ground on the Eagles’ side of the court and Florida won the third set 25-13.
Georgia Southern ended the match with a negative .010 hitting percentage, the lowest Florida has held any team to this season. The Gators laid down 37 kills and finished the match with a .271 hitting percentage.
Florida will cap off its Friday doubleheader in the O’Connell Center against Florida Gulf Coast at 7:30 p.m. The match will be broadcast on SEC Network +.
Brandon Hernandez is currently the enterprise sports writer and sports podcast host for The Independent Alligator. He likes long walks on the sidewalk and watching basketball tape in his off time. You can find most of his work @BranH2001 on X and on The Courtside Podcast on Spotify.